Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Poetry online

April is poetry month, so as the spring brings color and life gradually to homes and libraries across the country, so does a celebration of poetry explodes with color and life across the Internet. One especially interesting project this year is "Thirty Poems for Thirty Days" which will add a new unpublished poem to the Gottabook site every day during April. Poets from Arnold Adoff to Jane Yolen will be represented, so we can expect to see lively language and delightful rhythms to cheer each day. Poetry is one of the oldest forms of creative expression from the days when bards sang their poems to listeners around a fire, through the first days of written language, printed books, recorded recitations and now to the Internet. Media techniques come and go, but the basic charms of language last forever and will enchant humans not matter what the format--print, audio, digital. Let's all enjoy its continuing life.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

America's endless argument

Most Europeans look with amazement as Americans continue to argue year after year about whether or not the world was shaped by evolution. Scientists have accepted Darwin's century-old theory of evolution, which has been refined and amplified over the years, as the basis of modern biology. Not so in Texas! Some Americans are convinced that the world was created less than 10,000 years ago and has remained without change ever since. These arguments wouldn't bother people if the believers in creationism didn't insist their beliefs should be taught in schools. The battleground for this year is Texas, where the Board of Education has been trying to mandate the inclusion in all biology textbooks of language questioning the validity of evolutionary theory. This change would affect not only students in Texas but throughout the country because textbook publishers like their books to adoptable in all states. It saves them a lot of money even though it may shortchange students. Although the creationists on the Texas Board of Education did not get their suggestion passed at this week's meeting, it was defeated by a margin of one vote. Science teachers, librarians and will have to be watchful to be sure that changes don't creep into the books sooner or later. We will go on providing comedy for educated people in other countries for as long as the endless battle continues.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Is the book as good as the movie?

One by one, for better or worse, our favorite children's books are coming to the big screen. This fall it will be Where the Wild Things Are, one of the most beloved classics of the twentieth century . Its perfect blend of illustrations and text capture the feelings of a young boy whose anger is scary even to himself. It's too early to say whether the transition to the screen will enhance the charm or lose it, but it's safe to say the movie will be seen by many children who have never heard of the book. Librarians should be prepared for a sharp increase in demand for the book and to answer questions about whether the book can live up to the movie. For some children it won't. While the picture book is aimed directly at young children, the live action film will no doubt appeal to an older group no longer satisfied with static images on a page. Whether the translation to a different medium enhances the book or devalues it is something we may be arguing about for years to come. At the moment all we can say is that it was bound to happen and we can only hope for the best.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Who's networking now?

Social networking is growing fast and just about everyone over the age of 12 seems to belong to one or another of the social networking sites. Even children younger than that sign into Penguin Club or other social sites designed for children. The Communications Office in the U.K. (OfCom) issued a report detailing which people tend to use social networking and what they use it for. Although the data was gathered in Britain, many of the patterns are surely similar to those in other countries. It is illuminating for librarians and teachers to be aware of why the children and teens they deal with are so fond of being online and contacting their friends through these sites. While adults may not approve of all of the sharing of private data and pictures that occurs on Social Networking sites, we should at least try to understand the attraction and perhaps help youngsters learn to use the sites appropriately.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Drawing them into the library

Books are the major attraction in most children's libraries, but there's no question that an attractive room helps lure children in. The Robin Hood Foundation has given money to several schools in the Bronx, N.Y., to create attractive murals for libraries. The N.Y. Times shows pictures of some of the libraries and it's easy to see why children would flock to these libraries, especially because of the drabness of the school around them. Most librarians will not have a chance to see, much less work with, such inventive artistic renderings in their libraries, but the example may help us consider how other libraries could be brightened and enhanced by a little artistic flair. Every community has its artists and designers. It's time for a little collaboration that would benefit everyone.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Manga continues to grow

A tepid review of an art show featuring manga and anime in the N.Y. Times reminds us again of what important art forms these Japanese imports are becoming. Although relatively few people will be able to see the exhibit, "Krazy! The Pre-Future of Manga Pods and J-Pop", it is one more indication of how the illustrations, plots, and characters from these forms have influenced writers and artists around the world. More and more children are reading manga, bookstores are devoting ever-growing shelves to this format, and libraries are gradually introducing them into the collection. There's no doubt that traditionally trained librarians and teachers will have to broaden their knowledge about international pop culture if they want to continue to reach the new generations of children coming into our schools and libraries. Lifelong learning is for everyone.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

You let them use cell phones?

Most schools find that children start bringing new technology gadgets to school by the time they reach fourth or fifth grade. Parents give kids cell phones so they can make arrangements for afterschool meetings and keep tabs on where they are. Children use computers at home and become proficient in finding sites their teachers never heard about. But many teachers and school librarians worry about letting these technologies creep into the school. Finally an educator has spoken out in favor of allowing most of the new technologies into classrooms and hallways. "From Mad Magazine to Facebook" makes the point that schools have for generations discouraged children from using new media. But we know that in the real world those technologies are going to play an important role in any modern American life. Perhaps children should be encouraged to become proficient in using them while at the same time learning how they can be effective and what behaviors should be avoided online.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Moving into e-books?

As more children and teens become accustomed to reading text online, it's natural to think of providing e-books for them to read rather than conventional print. The Kindle 2 is the latest development in this line and it's caught many people imagination. Some even think it represents the future of reading. Jakob Nielsen, one of the leading experts on the usability of online material gives us a careful analysis of the usability of Kindle 2. Librarians and teachers will be glad to see that Mr. Nielsen has compared the experience of reading a print book with that of reading the same book on Kindle 2. He find that Kindle is very usable for linear books, less so for non-linear material such as newspapers. You need to read the piece for yourself, because it raises issues that will be important in choosing whether or not to make this technology available to young people.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Have you read your cell phone?

Japan has frequently led the way in embracing new media technology. Remember when no one knew what manga were? Now every librarian who works with tweens and teens is buying them. The latest trend from Japanese teenagers is the cell phone novel. Kids, especially girls, are not only reading short novels on cell phones, they are writing them. As the recent article in School Library Journal tells us, Japanese publishers have been finding and publishing new novelists who got their start writing cell phone novels. Perhaps it is true as one publisher suggests that the day of the blockbuster is over and the cell phone fiction will find find its place selling a limited number of copies to niche audiences. This is certainly a trend to keep an eye on.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Is Fair Use in Danger?

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has been fighting for years to protect the rights of people who use electronic media. One of its most recent issues has been the YouTube policy on taking down posted videos that use bits of copyright material. EFF describes how the Warner corporation has used this policy to take down any video it deems as going beyond fair use practice. The difficulty is that almost no individual who makes a video incorporating music or images from copyright material has the resources to fight against Warner. Even when a use is clearly within the doctrine, the individual may be left with significant legal fees. Librarians and Teachers have a stake in this quarrel because it seems clear that much art of the future will be made by remixing material from a variety of sources. This creative use should be encouraged, especially among young people, rather than stifled by corporate interests.